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Stone Stanley “Stone Stanley”

22 Apr, 2011 Mike Roots

For most, having the opportunity to one day collaborate with an established musician whom you admire and appreciate is nothing but a dream never pursued.  After all, how likely is it that any interaction between two such people would even go beyond exchanging pleasantries at best?  Yet, for Garden Grove, CA native and singer/songwriter Jason “JT” Trombley, such a dream became reality, when through a series of events, he met and made a connection with Juan Nelson, former bassist for Ben Harper & The Innocent Criminals.  Eventually, the relationship between the two musicians resulted in collaboration that would lead to band, named Stone Stanley, and their self-titled debut.
For the record, there actually is a person named Stone Stanley, though he is not in the band.  According to Trombley, the man whose moniker they directly obtained permission to use was “a record producer during the 40′s, 50′s and 60′s” who, as “rumor” has it, went into exile in the high desert of San Bernardino County in reaction to “the corporate takeover of the American music scene in the early 70′s.”  Why such a rumor wouldn’t either be refuted or substantiated since Trombley and Stanley have/had a personal connection is unclear.  Stanley, whose own music is described by Trombley as “folky, but soulful with a hint of reggae” is actually pretty close to that of his understudy and band who bear his name.

Stone Stanley’s sound is indeed not dramatically different from that of Ben Harper.  (Does Ben know Mr. Stanley also?)  Really, this should be no surprise considering the obvious influence, what with Trombley being a fan of Harper and now a band mate and co-producer with Nelson, a 17-year member of Ben Harper & The Innocent Criminals (BHIC).  As such, the songs on Stone Stanley are comprised of elements of folk, reggae, rock, blues and soul, all rooted in a natural acoustic vibe.  From a lyrical standpoint, Trombley gives equal weight to personal relationships, observation and social concerns.  With a singing style somewhere between that of Ray Lamontagne, Bob Carlisle and a bit like up and coming reggae artist Dominic Balli, Trombley’s bluesy vocals are more intimate, breathy and slightly raspy than they are wailing.  Rounding out the musical lineup on Stone Stanley are drummer and percussionist Rock Deadrick (Ben Harper/Tracy Chapman/Ziggy Marley), Dave Kalish on guitar and Jelani Jones on keyboards and organ.  The danger here, of course, is that Trombley and company run the risk of sounding like a shadow of BHIC, especially if the songs on Stone Stanley don’t hold up well.  Fortunately, for the most part they do.

With the rhythm section of Deadrick and Nelson locking things down, “Anywhere I Go” is organic funk with a message.  Jones’ inspired playing on organ adds warmth and soul, while some retro flute adds an appropriate touch.  The acquired taste here is Trombley’s voice, particularly on the chorus, where he sings “I am free deep in my soul / I am free anywhere I go.” Rather than belting it out, it’s almost as if he’s whispering loudly.  Lyrically, he speaks of homelessness, providing an engaging narrative.  As he sings about “people losing homes and moving into their cars” and such, Trombley’s character is emotionally conflicted as he weighs the stress of the harsh street life versus the contentedness in being free of the worldly concerns that consume those who are deemed better off.

“Crazy” is a stark bare-bones reggae track, made so by Nelson’s primal bass line, Deadrick’s drums and Trombley’s dub-inspired vocal reverberations.  With lines such as, “And I think it’s crazy / What she’s done to me lately / Well, I think it’s madness / Too much sadness / Insanity, criminal mentality / Well, I think it’s crazy she’d do it to me”, the chorus has a strong melodic hook.  Trombley’s vocals here are at their grittiest, adding credibility to the pain and emotional trauma expressed in the lyrics.  The Jack Johnson-flavored “Superstar” is pleasing folk pop, enhanced by Jones’ understated organ and electric piano.  With the down-tempo “Down 2 Hang”, Trombley laments a love interest who said “she only wants to be friends.” As he sings, “And now she’s calling me once again / Said she’s always down to hang / But she’s the only one / To ever mean a damn to me / But she had her chance way back then / I told that girl again, again and again,” the sentiments are heartfelt and convincing. “Down 2 Hang” effectively balances acoustic instrumentation, including haunting flute lines, with a strong melody.

“So Lonely Again” is tuneful, folk-infused reggae with Trombley sounding somewhat like a hushed Bob Carlisle.  After a beautiful acoustic guitar intro, reminiscent of the Plain White T’s, the band settles into a warm groove.  Just when it seems like he’s going to reach an emotional high point upon finding true love, the bottom drops out; “Nowadays it seems she’s only loyal and as true as her options / There’s so much fun under the sun you know she really wants to go and get some / But I’m so lonely, so lonely again.” “So Lonely Again” is a catchy, well-written tune that showcases Trombley’s writing skills and the chemistry of his supporting musicians.  “Rainbows and Waterfalls” is a surprising bittersweet instrumental folk piece featuring acoustic guitar, including some subtle slide work.

Some biting social commentary is in order on the Skynyrd-meets-Dylan “Oilman Sam”, with the song’s namesake a thinly veiled reference to the US government.  Rather than settling for a scathing indictment, Trombley instead chooses to offer a moral to the story and word of encouragement, warning “Don’t let money rob your soul.” Implicating the government in a war for “black gold” and “the Twin Towers falling down,” it is evident that Trombley is not afraid of a bit of controversy.  Musically, “Oilman Sam” possesses a rhythm that brings to mind Dylan’s “Subterranean Homesick Blues.”

The organ-drenched reggae of “Now I Know” charts familiar melodic territory and doesn’t quite stand out.  At least in part, it almost sounds like a musical reworking “Down 2 Hang.”  Topically, though Trombley finds himself lonely, he discovers “there’s more to life than just pleasing me” and “I wish that I could go back and replace all my hate with love.” Such a redemptive message is refreshing, even if the song isn’t spectacular.  At over six and a half minutes, the brooding Southern rock of “Space is the Place” has a Lynyrd Skynyrd feel with its slide guitar, and even some distorted riffs.

With “All My Friends”, Stone Stanley delivers another reggae-infused track.  Trombley’s breathy vocals seem overwrought and deliberate as he reflects on the tragedy of losing friends, dropping names in the process such as Kurt Cobain, Brian Jones and Janis Joplin.  Rather bland, and neither engaging nor off-putting, “All My Friends” sounds like the kind of track that well could have ended up on the cutting room floor.  Stone Stanley closes by adding a bit of fun and spice with a straightforward cover of legendary bluesman Robert Johnson’s “They’re Red Hot.”

Though Stone Stanley isn’t flawless, Jason “JT” Trombley, with support from bassist and co-producer Juan Nelson and a solid group of musicians, has released a well-crafted record.  At its best, this full-length debut offers sturdy melodies, inspired interplay, soulful singing and thoughtful lyrics- and their certainly are enough of those strong moments to make Stone Stanley enjoyable and meaningful listening.

Review by Mike Roots
Rating: 3 Stars (out of 5)

Alain Rozan “Histoires D’Amour”

12 Apr, 2011 Mike Roots

Born in France and having made his home in the United States for the past 30 years, singer/songwriter and actor Alain Rozan is strongly influenced by the culture of both countries.  Counting influences as varied as Bob Dylan, Tom Waits, Steve Forbert, Edith Piaf, Jacques Brel and Serge Gainsbourg, Rozan is a genuine troubadour who has performed at many New York venues over the years.  As part of a Bastille Day celebration in 1995 in New York City (where he currently lives), along with friend and accordion master Walter Kuehr, Rozan actually did a one day mini tour, going from place to place, performing 3 songs at 23 different locations! In addition to his musical talents, Rozan is also an actor who has appeared in a number of French plays, including the works of Jean-Paul Sartre and Jean Anhouil, directed by the likes of Marcel Lidj and his Studio Dramatique.  Although he sings in both his native language as well as English, the songs on his new recording Histoires D’Amour (Love Stories) are all sung in French.
Histoires D’Amour is an acoustic-based album with a decidedly European flair, enhanced by Rozan’s exquisite voice as well as accordion, acoustic bass and understated percussion.  Melodically, each of the eight songs hold up so well that they can be enjoyed whether or not one understands the language, though it might not be a bad idea for Rozan to include English translations of the lyrics in the CD booklet if he hasn’t already done so.

Histoires D’Amour (Love Story) begins with some nicely played hand drum and percussion rhythms before settling into a warm and mellow groove.  Rozan’s voice carries the melody beautifully, with the ample yet understated support of bass, percussion and accordion.  Likewise, the guitar work from Erik Della Penna is tasteful and heartfelt; a combination of rhythmic strumming and Spanish-influenced picking.  With similar musical backing, “Une Femme (A Woman)” is a yearning ballad, augmented by the addition of some gorgeous cello accompaniment.  Characterized by yearning and passion, Rozan’s vocals are fervent and raspy, perhaps evoking a bit of Oh Mercy-era Dylan.  Here and throughout Histoires D’Amour, his voice is at the forefront, allowing the story to be told with clarity while the music provides the ideal framework and embellishment.
With its brisk tempo, “Y’a Pas Qu’Les Pauvres Qui Chantent Le Blues” is yet another strong selection, set apart by Rozan’s husky vocals and a wonderfully played accordion solo.  Rather than employ a standard blues progression, the song puts a creative twist on the tradition by tweaking things in terms of structure, providing a jazzy folk flavor.  The result is equal parts exuberant and pensive, with the weightiness of Rozan’s lyrical expression lifted by inspired musical reinforcement.  The wistful “Tu M’Avais Dit (You Said)” is sparse in its arrangement, made more evident by its slow waltz-like rhythm.  Singing in hush, almost whispered tones, Rozan again shows his ability to embrace a song, providing the delivery needed to let a tale be told effectively.  The sympathetic touches of fretless bass, cello, accordion, guitar and percussion offer suitable support.

“Pas Reussi (Not Succeeded)” is tinged with melancholy, yet tempered by the brightness of a pulsing rhythm, accordion flourishes and vocal harmonies.  Rather than employ sharp accents, tempo changes and the like, the songs on Histoires D’Amour are noted for their fluidity, and “Pas Reussi” is no exception in this regard.  With its haunting ska-influenced rhythm, “Tarentella” finds Rozan exploring previously uncharted creative territory on the album.  The musical accompaniment is characteristically understated, while the rare use of accents here provides fitting depth.  On “Tarantella,” his singing ranges from light and airy to guttural, adapting a sing-speak style at times.

At just over two minutes in length, “Feministe (Feminist)” is a song sketch featuring Rozan’s sweet vocals, sometimes brought to a whisper.  Despite its short length, the melody is memorable, enhanced restrained accompaniment, highlighted by a lovely accordion solo.  In reference to one of his influences, “La Chanson De Gainsbourg” is evidently Rozan’s tribute to the late French singer/songwriter and director.  Though the song lacks the appeal of most of Histoires D’Amour, the coronet of Lawrence “Butch” Morris does add unexpected dimension to the somber piece which otherwise includes only the Rozan’s voice and Della Penna’s guitar.

Overall, Alain Rozan succeeds with Histoires D’Amour by rendering an artful yet accessible body of natural-sounding songs, encompassing folk, jazz and world beat elements.  This is the sort of music conducive to coffeehouses and bistros, as well as the confines of one’s living room.  Though some may be disappointed by the brief length (8 songs), Histoires D’Amour offers an impressive and rewarding listening for French and non-French-speaking music lovers alike.

Review by Mike Roots
Rating: 4 Stars (out of 5)

Eric Hausmann “Slow Ambient Dub”

12 Apr, 2011 Mike Roots

Eric Hausmann is a multi-instrumentalist who loves to tinker with various sounds, textures and rhythms, exploring the possibilities of music and pushing the boundaries.  His musical foundation was established at an early age, taking violin and cello lessons at the age of 6 before moving on to trumpet.  Since the 80′s, when he started his own record label, Spilling Audio, until now, his eclectic array of projects has included soundtracks, eccentric dub, guitar music and percussion.  Although he describes the guitar as his main instrument, Hausmann’s musical arsenal includes a plethora of percussion instruments, guitar synthesizers, sitar, tabla and more.  His latest project, Slow Ambient Dub, is a decidedly heavy and multifarious EP solidly based in dub, not unlike some of the work of Bill Laswell, whom he credits as an influence.
With it’s inherent solid skeletal structure and openness, it’s apparent that dub offers the perfect canvas upon which Hausmann can splash his musical colors and textures.  Though Slow Ambient Dub may exceed the normal limits of the dub reggae purist, it rewards the more adventurous and open-minded listener.  As the vintage cover photos and track titles suggest, the project indeed offers commentary on war and combat with the inclusion of sampled dialogue from classic films, helicopters, gun shots, mortar blasts and sirens.  Though Hausmann lets the music do the talking for the most part, it’s clear enough through what is said that the overall theme is one of outrage and protest over the atrocities and injustices of war.

“Dub Squad” fuses a plodding roots bass line and reggae drums that sound as if they were played by a rock drummer.  Incorporated in to the mix are Hausmann’s atmospheric guitar strums and plucks, exotic percussion and Middle Eastern flavors and even a classic rock power chord quotation.  With air raid sirens, fighter planes and gun blasts amid ambient musical interpolations setting the stage on “Dub Raid”, he uses numerous dialogue snippets such as “something about hearing a secret new plane”, “we’ve never made killing a career” and “what is the enemy?” to cause the listener to ponder and draw conclusions.  Rather than bombastic, “Dub Raid” exudes an eerie calmness, perhaps like that experienced in a bunker amidst battle though not quite in the line of fire.  Hausmann’s echoey picked guitar notes add a fitting touch deep into the mix.

The funky bass and drums (courtesy of Scott Galper) on “Dub Clash” serve to loosen things up a bit as Hausmann throws in some processed guitar chanks and accents.  Surprisingly, the bottom falls out of the rhythm, giving way to various sounds including timbale rolls, chimes and squealing sirens.  Any sense of calm is then obliterated by machine gun and mortar blasts, providing jarring reminders of the war at hand.  Even with the inclusion of such startling elements, Hausmann’s mixing techniques make for a richly appealing listening experience.

The aptly-titled “A Dub Confession” is a feast of ambient synth washes, crucial one drop reggae rhythms, hand drums and exotic percussion.  The confession of a male suspect under interrogation, including “she came from home, had her suitcase and all and she came out on the altcar…I had to kill her, I had to,” serves to effectively to tell a tragic tale.  Hausmann’s musical response seems to suggest outrage at the heinous crime, seemingly committed without remorse.  Deep bass and thunderclap drum fills evolving from reggae into a rumbling rock beat and back again, smooth out to make way for an ominous ending, including the suspect’s detailed account of the killing.  The guitar artistry on “A Dub Confession”, whether revealed in textured leads or razor sharp riffs, impressively showcases Hausmann’s ability on the instrument.

At over nine and a half minutes, “A Sad Dub” is seasoned with pinches of Middle Eastern flair through the use of various stringed instruments, percussion, and words, both spoken and sung, by Tiffany Lee Brown.  The languid rhythm and sonic starkness are the ideal complement to Brown’s engagingly pleasant singing voice, sometimes bathed in reverb and occupying various places within the mix.  The strongest and most important message on Slow Ambient Dub is conveyed via male spoken word vocals in a natural conversational tone: “Decisions are made for you which you have no part of at all. I just lament the fact that so many people are content with living a very quiet, well-mannered, orderly life when so many obvious injustices, I guess, are going on…and they just seem to ignore it somehow or not care it all, just let it happen without ever becoming involved.  I think that’s sad.” Although the words are heavy, the effect is more thought-provoking and action-inspiring than it is condemning, which is likely the result Hausmann intended.

Slow Ambient Dub is the emodiment of diverse elements, harnessing the raw power of dub, innovative and fervent guitar, a spectrum of percussion, synthesizers and more.  What Eric Hausmann has managed to accomplish here is not only musically ambitious, but also socially relevant and important in a way that awakens, encourages and inspires.

Review by Mike Roots
Rating: 5 Stars (out of 5)

Jacqueline Gawler “Ambrosia”

01 Apr, 2011 Mike Roots

Jacqueline Gawler is an artist unafraid to explore uncharted creative territories.  As a singer/songwriter with Australian female vocal quintet Coco’s Lunch, she has explored diverse genres such as pop, jazz and world beat, incorporating influences from Africa, Brazil and beyond.  Over the course of six albums, the group pushed artistic boundaries into areas occupied by world-renowned ensembles such as Sweet Honey in the Rock and Zap Mama.  In addition, Gawler spent time abroad studying and working as a West African percussionist, collaborating with some of Brazil’s top jazz musicians and singing in Portuguese.  Although her most notable achievements are with the award-winning Coco’s Lunch, she has also sung with inventive groups such as Stoneflower, Picturebox Orchestra and The Jacqueline Gawler Band.  Because she has demonstrated such a thirst for adventure and exploration, it may be surprising that it’s taken so long for Gawler to release a project of her own.  Perhaps this is because she has fared well in finding willing collaborators who share her musical vision.  But none of it is quite the same as having the unencumbered artistic license that Gawler finds with Ambrosia, her album as a solo artist.
As one might expect, Gawler has formidable vocals chops, displaying a command of rhythm, melody and breath control.  “Dirt Philosopher” is brooding pop, with a combination of clean and distorted guitar textures and swirling vocal melodies.  As she sings, “2012 can you keep up with the pace / or will you keep running this race / 2012 will you pray with me / or will you be leaving with no trace,” Gawler refuses to get caught up in the hysteria surrounding some people’s apocalyptic fears and beliefs.  Despite it’s weighty sentiments, “Dirt Philosopher” has catchy appeal, nicely accented by a synthesizer solo reminiscent of Peter Gabriel-era Genesis.

With its lurching organ-drenched rhythm, robust guitar crescendos and serene passages, “Ambrosia” is equal parts sassy and soothing.  An imaginative touch comes when the song seems to groan to a halt, only to start up again with a cool bass fill.  Unexpectedly, horn charts enter the mix, taking the song to its conclusion.  Vocally, even when taking on an assertive tone, Gawler tends to use restraint while getting her point across.  Enigmatic lyrics such as, “Ambrosia, what are you waiting for / Inside disaster, inside us all / Is an army of angels, poised ready standing tall / Ambrosia, life is too short and sweet,” leave themselves open to interpretation.

The somber accordion intro and subtle touches on “On My Skin” bestow a slight Astor Piazzolla feel. Though the track lacks a distinctive hook, there is some nice rhythmic interplay and dreamy guitar injections that make things somewhat interesting.   “When Passengers Write Poetry and Flight Attendants Sing” has a Carole King meets Rickie Lee Jones pop feel.  Thoughtful lyrics and a memorably tuneful chorus make this one of Ambrosia’s stronger selections.  “Sahara Nights” has an experimental feel, incorporating hand claps and growling piano rhythms into an eventual soca-flavored beat, though not quite conjuring images of swaying palm trees.  Gawler’s lyrics, tinged in abstractness continue to challenge; “You weren’t here for the screening of my Egyptian dream / But you were painted ‘cross the walls of hot Sahara nights.” Despite nicely showcasing Gawler’s impressive harmonizing abilities and some Prince-inspired guitar work, “Sahara Nights” intrigues but doesn’t quite captivate.

Not your typical lullaby, “Goodnight My Little Darling” combines comforting lyrics with tender kalimba melodies.  Her vocals, redolent of brilliant jazz songstress Cassandra Wilson, brim with warmth and clarity.  With gentle hand drums and Eugene Ball’s lovely trumpet lines, “Goodnight My Little Darling” exemplifies Gawler’s tasteful artistic talents and probably wouldn’t sound out of place on a Coco’s Lunch album.  The adventurous “Varkala” features syncopated rhythms and vocals, possessing elements of flamenco and Middle Eastern music.  As Gawler sings, “Take me to ocean blue clean sheet sand sky / Open up my eyes and feel the sea shift / And the water glisten on her skin / Take me in, take me in,” once again the listener is left to ponder and reflect.  Although “Varkala” is fascinating from a creative standpoint, it fails to make of an much of an impact in terms of melody.

Gawler closes Ambrosia with two covers.  Soundgarden’s melancholy “Black Hole Sun” seems like a natural choice, as it fits with the mood of the album.  Chris Cornell’s thought-provoking lyrics such as, “Stuttering, cold and damp / Steal the warm wind tired friend / Times are gone for honest men / And sometimes far too long for snakes,” are right at home on Ambrosia.  Gawler’s treatment of “Black Hole Sun” retains the structure and feel of the original, though she does soften the edges a bit and adds her trademark harmony vocals.  The Beach Boys’ “God Only Knows” is mellow and brilliant with its sunny bossa nova guitar and Brazilian-influenced vocal touches.  Though she waits until the very end, Gawler delivers Ambrosia’s most joyous and affirming piece, highlighted by her warm and unassuming vocals and Brian Wilson and Tony Asher’s straightforward lyrics.

Jaqueline Gawler is an impressive talent who obviously took great enjoyment making in Ambrosia, relishing the freedom of expressiveness that such a solo project offers.  Although some tracks make a stronger impression than others, the album makes for good listening nonetheless and impresses by combining seemingly disparate elements and Gawler’s terrific instrumental and vocal prowess.

Review by Mike Roots
Rating:  3 Stars (out of 5)

Jim & Holly Lawrence “Caledonian Shadows”

25 Mar, 2011 Mike Roots

By looking at the cover art to Jim & Holly Lawrence’s Caledonian Shadows, their third project to date, one might get the impression that the recording is the soundtrack to a Disney film or a collection of children’s songs.  Such assumptions would be understandable, but they would be incorrect.  The meaning of the father and daughter duo standing in a forest clearing, surrounded by and interacting with several illustrated characters, is explained in brief in the liner notes and in greater detail on their website, jimandholly.com.  It turns out the cartoon figures are mostly depictions of fictional characters from within the annals of Scottish folklore.  The exception is the illustration of famed 18th century Scottish poet and lyricist Robert Burns.  As such, the songs utilize these characters, and in Burns’ case, his lyrics, to tell stories, likely both allegorical as well as fictional.  Jim and Holly Lawrence describe their portrayal of Irish and Scottish folk ballads as “Celtic music with an American twist,” which is concise and quite accurate.  Having followed in her dad’s footsteps by earning a music degree from his alma mater, University of Mary Washington, and singing in a community-college chorus known as the Fredericksburg (VA) singers, Holly, with her pure and gentle soprano, proves the ideal complement to his musical accompaniment on Caledonian Shadows.  Jim, in addition to his own lead and backing vocals, provides ample backing with guitar, bass, mandolin, whistle, soprano recorders, bodhrán and bongos.  In addition, the project includes contributions from numerous musicians on a variety of instruments including fiddle, flute, triple strung harp, djembe and highland bagpipes, among others.  Despite ample instrumentation, Caledonian Shadows possesses an open and uncluttered soundscape, allowing both instruments and voices to be heard clearly.
Holly’s resonant a cappella rendition of Burns’ “Such a Parcel of Rogues” is powerful and almost anthemic in its expression.  Lyrics like “The English steel we could disdain / Secure in valour’s station / But English gold has been our bane / Such a parcel o’ rogues in a nation,” ring with power and conviction.  “The Brownies,” a Jim Lawrence composition, is delightful, featuring Katie Miller’s fiddle played with gusto.  Jim handles lead vocals here, bringing an unembellished storyteller’s quality to a song inspired by fictional sprites of Scottish folklore.  The wordless refrain is fun and infectious, no doubt making it an audience favorite at live performances.  The jubilant and rousing “The Atholl Highlanders” is one and one-third minute’s worth of guitar, fiddle and percussion merriment.
One of the Anglo-Dutch wars fought in the 17th or 18th century provides the inspiration for “Lowlands of Holland” whose author is unknown.  Blending conventional folk/pop with traditional melody, Holly’s emotive soprano and the natural guitar and bass ensemble make for a pleasing combination.  Another Burns composition, the lullaby “Flow Gently, Sweet Afton,” finds Holly singing with an innocent almost girlish quality as harp, whistle and guitar offer sympathetic support.  The result is beautiful and comforting.

Both “The Wee Wee Man” and “The Green Man of Knowledge” find inspiration in the characters in Scottish folklore that bear their names.  The former with its wistful melody and placid accompaniment, with Holly providing lead vocals, sits nicely alongside the traditional pieces on Caledonian Shadows.  Allowing the natural textures of fiddle, acoustic guitar and bass to come through points to the tasteful production values used both here and on the project as a whole.  The Harry Chapin-esque “The Green Man of Knowledge,” a Jim and Holly duet, takes on a bit more exuberance, particularly with the use of a drum kit.  With lyrics such as, “And the Green Man of Knowledge roams his fortress alone / Trapped in the silence of his lonely halls / Regarding his kingdom from his towers tall / Wailing and cursing at unfeeling walls”, a tragic and riveting tale is told of one whose wealth and intellect fail to bring true fulfillment.

A seven-song portion of Caledonian Shadows, tells the story of Tam Lin, an old Scottish fairy tale of a young man who is held captive by faeries and the young damsel who comes to his rescue.  Since these are part of a larger theme, it is quite necessary to listen to each of them in order to get the proper and intended context.  Even so, “Redemption” is a starkly gorgeous piece thanks to Katie Miller’s fiddle and Jim’s sparse guitar and bass.  As the piece closes, the music dissolves as Holly’s voice carries the somber melody and the accompaniment emerges once again in the closing moments.

The appropriately titled “Praise to the Man/Scotland the Brave” is robust and inspirational with its valiant bagpipes and assertive bodhrán rhythms.  The combination works well and is a welcome change of pace. “Caledonia” is a tender and effecting ballad written by Scottish singer-songwriter Dougie MacLean.  As Holly sings on the chorus, “Oh but let me tell you that I love you / And I think about you all the time / Caledonia you’re calling me and I’m going home / But if I should become a stranger / You know that it would make me more than sad / Caledonia you’re everything I’ve ever had,” the message of love and appreciation for one’s homeland comes through with unabashed sincerity.  The simple support of acoustic guitars and Ethan Wagner’s expressive cello are ideal for Holly’s honest vocal delivery.

With Caledonian Shadows, Jim & Holly Lawrence have succeeded in assembling a body of songs, both traditional and original, that reflect their love for Celtic music with a balance of reverence and creative passion.  This album serves well in keeping to the motto “Celtic music with an American twist,” making for an accessible listening experience for the uninitiated and devotee alike.

Review by Mike Roots
Rating:  4 Stars (out of 5)